AAA's researcher for Korea Sunghee Lee spoke with Korean artist Kyungwon Moon about her interest in the historical memory of space, the metaphorical strength of the 'greenhouse' and her reasoning for the use of media in her artwork
Sunghee Lee (LSH): Let us start with your group exhibition ‘Beginning of New Era’ (2009), for which you were commissioned to make video art at the exhibition site, the former Defense Security Command (DSC). Notably, the DSC is a DMZ-like place in the middle of downtown Seoul, which was previously the home of Sogyeoksoe (the National Taoist Temple) and Gyujanggak (the Royal Library) before turning into the site of a military general hospital, as well as the DSC. You found a ‘greenhouse’ on the roof of a building there, and produced a semi-documentary that combined historical fact and artistic imagination, resulting in Superposition (2009). Can you tell us about the contents and production method of this work?
Kyungwon Moon (MKW): As the DSC was relocated, the ‘Beginning of New Era’ group exhibition was held to commemorate the opening of the former DSC site to the public for the first time. The empty site will be transferred to the National Museum of Contemporary Art in the spring of 2012.
Superposition conveys the contemporary history of Korea. First of all, to tell the truth, I did not know anything about the area, or the purpose and historical meaning of this location, until I started working on the project. I visited the area after the DSC was relocated, and researched the location’s historical background. All of a sudden, a stream of thoughts began to come through. Especially when I came across the greenhouse on the rooftop of the empty building, I found that the weight of historical importance and the rather light atmosphere created a mysterious and psychological image. Along those lines, something gave me the motivation to use the superficial and psychological landscape of the greenhouse as a metaphorical device. Although I utilised a documentary process, I ended up producing a semi-documentary, combining both facts and my imagination to portray the presence of the mysterious site. Superposition is in documentary format in order to explain the historical facts, but as an artist, I wanted to create and try a new and more creative methodology: giving an artistic, visual explanation rather than just a factual narration. As I looked into the greenhouse, I wanted to create a cognitive landscape and deliver a metaphorical explanation of the historical background and memories of the space; I did so by utilising computer graphic images of the vines of mutated plants, and by creating an experimental atmosphere that filled the empty greenhouse with an historical and personal microscopic imagination.
LSH: Superposition 2009 is precursor to GreenHouse I, II_1909, which you showcased at your 2010 solo exhibition, and in which you utilise the greenhouse at Changgyeonggung as the subject matter. Your work focuses on a historical encounter that you have never directly experienced, while reconstructing the past and present. What led you in this direction?
MKW: I have always been interested in transferring real-life landscapes into art. That’s why I wanted to create a whole new image of landscapes using a historical and personal microscopic imagination. Many people, including myself, have only known of the existence of the greenhouse at Changgyounggung from historical textbooks, but the place actually exists in our present time in real life. Playing with the law of perspective, I tried to portray the current landscape of the greenhouse, depicting the historical meaning behind the pale greenhouse through my personal perspective of Changgyounggung.
LSH: What is the meaning of ‘greenhouse’ in the context of your work? Is there any social context involved?
MKW: The greenhouse is an allegorical space that describes the tools, systems, constitutions, and history in the psychological and superficial life landscapes of human beings in modern society. Totally isolated from the outside world, the greenhouse is a place where light, temperature, and humidity are controlled. The greenhouse is a mysteriously peculiar place; different from the outside world, but new life exists just as on the outside. For this project, I wanted to metaphorically portray the landscape of modern society by using the greenhouse’s unique characteristics, which are reminiscent of allegory and superficiality.
LSH: Some of your works—such as Passage: Cityscape_Sungnyemun (2006), which takes on Sungnyemun (the South Gate), one of four gates of Seoul—examine historical fact and landscape through the medium of time. Can you tell us about this work?
MKW: I have been working on the Passage series, which is a series of portraits depicting lives, landscapes, cityscapes, and history constantly going through change as time goes on. Sungnyemun has been invariable, although its surrounding area has gone through multiple dynamic geometrical and historical changes. In 2006, I stood under the arched gate of Sungnyemum, which was opened to the public for the first time in 99 years. I had always observed Sungnyemun from the outside, and this was the first time that I looked outward at the surroundings from Sungnyemun. This was the turning point for me to begin working with landscapes; recording and reinterpreting with microscopic imagination. I remember filming the landscape while I was circling around under the arched gate of Sungnyemun on a cold day in 2006.
LSH: So, it seems like the sad historical incident of Sungnyemun burning down carries a special significance for you. How did you react to that? And, what effect did that have on your work?
MKW: The 2008 fire at Sungnyemun, one of Seoul’s four great gates and the No. 1 National Treasure, was a devastating and shocking incident for the entire society, including myself. This incident also gave me a big sense of loss, especially because, having worked there previously, I had become very affectionate towards the space. I visited the location right after the 2008 fire. I still can’t forget the scent of burnt aged pine trees over the heap of ashes. As time goes by, many institutions and companies have held promotions and events to encourage people dealing with the societal loss. This was an unforgettable moment, and I continued to work on the second and third part of the Passage Series, which I had worked on since 2006. Last year, the Sungnyemun project was shown on the façade of Seoul Square Media, and I personally think the site was perfect for the project. Located between the Sungnyemun reconstruction site and the Seoul Station, the project became a media canvas facing the area where people arrive and depart at the Seoul Station. People encountered the history and memories of Sungnyemun through the process of deconstructing and reconstructing Sungnyemun's image on the media canvas. I have finished the synopsis for my next project, a semi-documentary on Sungnyemun and its relationship to the surrounding environments, history, and myths of the Joseon Dynasty.
LSH: While we are on the topic of a site and its surrounding landscape, we must mention Sky-Recorded Today, which is installed at the Genius Loci (Meditation Center) designed by Japanese architect Tadao Ando on Jeju Island. How did you come up with this subject?
MKW: This work was intended to let people experience and face the time that existed in the past. This particular project actually originated from the unpredictable climate change on Jeju Island. Even on a clear and sunny day, viewers can see a cloudy or even a rainy sky from yesterday because the video image of sky being played for the project was actually filmed a day before. I designed a program to record and play a video image of the sky that was filmed 24 hours prior, and this video image is played along with five other videos that I previously produced.
LSH: In this project, you collaborated with a well-known architect; what was that like? Do you enjoy collaboration with artists from other fields? If so, tell us how you manage the process of collaboration?
MKW: Collaboration with people from different fields has always been a valuable experience because it provides me with more knowledge and experience, especially when discussing the same topic. Each project has a different procedure, but usually in order to go through and finish the actual project, people need to have numerous conversations and hold multiple meetings. In order to persuade others, logic is necessary, and each person has to objectively reevaluate and examine his/her or her own point of view. This is the same when working with a staff for any other production. Working with other people has always been an important experience in learning about and understanding the depth of works.
LSH: This work was developed for the window gallery tour project Bubble Talk, which took place during two months in 2008 in spaces including the Total Museum, Workroom, Window Gallery, OneandJ Gallery, and doART Seoul. What relationship do the four spaces have to each another?
MKW: Bubble Talk was produced around the same time as the Jeju Island work. The places—Pyungchang-dong, Sagan-dong, Tongui-dong and Insa-dong—are all meaningful and symbolic locations that recall landscapes in Korean contemporary art. The window architectures of galleries and museums within these places depict continuously transforming landscapes over time, and by following them we are able to witness the chronology of Korean Art History. The original plan was to show these places simultaneously, crossing over each other, and therefore emphasise each and all of them at once; however, I later showed each place individually, considering the available schedule of each location. Thus, I tried to actually visualise ordinary binary opposites, such as the past and the present, reality and illusion, and the act of seeing and being seen.
LSH: But why a ‘bubble?’ Indeed, the word ‘bubble’ is not especially strong, and has some negative connotations. Why did you place the 'landscape’ within a bubble?
MKW: No, a bubble is not particularly strong. A ‘bubble’ is normally perceived as something of the moment, futile, or light, and so on. And these definitions all lead to the common perception—fragility, which may come across as negative. However, the bubbles that I’ve presented float in different places in the work, and most importantly, they don’t pop. The bubbles represent art itself, or my attitude towards art. Or, they may be recognised as ‘subjects defined as artworks’. The bubble is a device for revealing the intricate mechanisms of art, as it is a question directed at art’s role and its conduct.
LSH: How would you describe your personal attitude and philosophy toward art? After graduating from college in Korea, you studied media art at California Institute of the Arts in the U.S.—how did the American academic system and life in the U.S. influence the development of your thinking about art?
MKW: It was definitely an opportunity to mull over my attitude towards art. I thought a lot about art’s conceptual implications, and its role in our society and culture, rather than the physical and the aesthetic sides of it. In other words, it was a time that allowed me to grasp the fundamentals of art. And I think that all these experiences (the experience of living in the American society as a foreigner, the experience of obtaining the tools which enabled me to express myself in various ways, and the experience of expanding my work with performing arts, cinema, and theatre) allowed me to work more flexibly later.
LSH: What’s your next project? Are you currently working on anything you want to share with us?
MKW: I’m currently engaged in a project where I plan to create virtual conversations based on interviews with people of various professions. I began this project based on personal interest, and it was further organised at Tokyo Wonder Site, which was held last fall in Tokyo, Japan. Conversations begin with discussions on topics such as ‘the issues pertaining to the existence of art today’, to ‘the role and function of art in society’, and ‘the geopolitics of today’s artists and their artistic attitude and conduct’, and so on. The purpose of this project is to approach and scrutinise the practical values of art from various perspectives, with the aid of other people’s opinions on art. I intend to further develop this project by producing an interesting visual product from the interviews I conducted with architects, composers, sociologists, scientists, critics, and artists. I plan to adopt the format of editorial cartoons, or to create a different version of my most recent similar work, Bubble Talk. Furthermore, this project will eventually become a synopsis for a collaboration project, to be executed in 2012.
LSH: You are often referred to as a ‘media artist’ because of the media technology that you utilise in your work. However, from the beginning of your career to the present, you have used analog drawings and digital programs simultaneously, and you worked in various mediums, including drawing, painting, video, animation, and installation in your 2010 solo exhibition. What role does ‘media’ play in your mind? Could you tell us about your working process?
MKW: I begin my work by drawing. It is an important step where I can actualise my imagination and ideas. This process could be compared to cooking; it is like generating a new recipe for a gourmet meal. Choosing the medium is similar to selecting the right utensils for a recipe. Then, I categorise the sources of images and build a database, just as if I were sorting the ingredients. And finally, there is the process of adding them all up: I either try to create a new narrative by editing the sources, or try to write new codes that interpret the various imageries in my imagination, as if I’m making good flavours.
To me, media is one of several very useful tools for carrying out an idea. It is a good ‘medium’ that already contains the essentials of expression and the methods of communication. Of course, unlike in traditional art, the expansion of technology and blending of different art fields in contemporary art opens the door to direct communication in a different dimension.
LSH: A repeating motif in your work is ‘landscape’. We frequently observe landscapes, but we are usually unaware of our own presence in another’s landscape, and unaware of the presence of life in objects and landscapes. However, you help us realise that a landscape lives and breathes with human beings in a variety of forms. What does ‘landscape’ mean for you?
MKW: The ‘landscape’ that I intend to convey is the love towards mankind and the world. I reject a ‘stuffed’ landscape that only consists of a relationship between an object and that object in the absence of mankind, or humanity, for that matter. The landscape that I translate and depict anew is how art lives and breathes around us today.
이성희: <박제>는 이후 2010년 개인전에서 선보이는, 창경궁의 대온실을 소재로 한 작품
이성희:여기서 작가가 말하고자 하는 ‘그린하우스; 온실’의 의미는 무엇인가요? 어떤 사회적 맥락이 개입되어 있는 것인가요?
이성희: 시간을 매개로 역사적인 사실과 풍경에 관한 논의를 풀어낸 작업으로, 서울의 4대문 중의 하나인 숭례문을 주제로 한 <경로: 도시풍경_숭례문(Passage: Cityscape_Sungnyemun)>(2006)이 생각납니다. 작업 과정을 설명해주세요.
이성희: 그래서 특히나 2008년 ‘숭례문 전소’라는 슬픈 역사적인 사건은 본인에게 더욱 특별한 의미가 있었을 것 같습니다. 그때 기분이 어떠셨나요? 이 사건은 본인 작업에 어떤 영향을 주었고, 어떤 작품으로 발전되었는지 궁금합니다.
이성희: 장소와 주변 풍경에 관한 이야기를 하면, 제주도에 안도 타다오가 설계한 명상 센터 지이어스 로사이에 설치된 작품 <어제의 하늘(Sky_Recorded Today)>을 빼놓을 수 없을 것 같습니다. 작업의 아이디어를 어떻게 찾으셨나요?
이성희: 이 프로젝트에서는 건축가와 협업을 하셨는데요, 어떠셨나요? 다른 분야의 예술가들과 협업하는 것을 즐기시나요? 그렇다면 어떤 방식으로 진행되는지 설명해주세요.
이성희: 이 작품이 2008년 9월부터 두 달 동안 여러 공간 (토탈 미술관, workroom 윈도우 갤러리, 원앤제이 갤러리, 두아트 서울)에서 진행된 윈도우 갤러리 투어 프로젝트 <버블톡>으로 발전된 것이죠? 이 프로젝트에서4개의 서로 다른 공간이 어떤 관계를 가지고 있는 건가요?
이성희: 그런데 왜 ‘버블’인가요? 사실 ‘버블’이란 단어는 다소 견고해보이지 않은, 즉 부정적인 의미가 강한데요, 이 버블 안에 ‘풍경’을 담은 특별한 이유가 있다면?
이성희:본인이 예술을 대하는 태도는 어떤 것인가요? 한국에서 대학 졸업후 미국에서 미디어를 공부하셨는데요, 미국의 학업과 생활이 예술관을 형성하는데 영향을 주었나요?
이성희:다음 프로젝트는 무엇인가요, 진행 중인 프로젝트가 있나요?
이성희:물론 작가님은 미디어 테크놀러지를 이용한다는 점에서 ‘미디어 아티스트’로 많이 언급됩니다. 그러나 작업 초기부터 지금까지 아날로그 드로잉과 디지털을 동시에 사용하거나, 2010년 개인전에서는 드로잉, 회화, 영상, 애니메이션, 설치 등 미디어와 장르를 두루 섭렵하는 선택을 했는데요. 본인에게 ‘미디어’의 의미는 무엇인가요? 작업의 제작 과정을 예로 들어서 설명해주세요.
이성희:작가님의 작업에서 가장 자주 발견되는 것은 ‘풍경’에 관한 이야기다. 사실 풍경은 우리 눈에 들어오는 가장 일차적인 대상이며, 우리 역시 누군가의 풍경의 일부지만, 우리는 사물과 풍경에 ‘삶’이 존재한다는 생각은 못하고 삽니다. 그러나 작가님은 우리에게 풍경이 인간과 함께 다양한 모습으로 숨쉬고 있다는 것을 확인시켜주는데요, 본인에게 ‘풍경’이란 어떤 의미인가요.